The one skill that every virtual organization needs

Instead of relegating the success or failure of your customer events, brainstorming sessions, and team meetings to chance, invest in the one superstar every organization operating virtually needs now: A skilled moderator.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

Imagine watching a game show without a host. How would contestants behave? What would happen to audience engagement? And, how likely would viewers be to tune in again?

The work from anywhere shift means, to some degree, we're all broadcasters now. Producing and delivering content from our home offices rather than studio offices. And, yet, what many organizations overlook is what successful game show producers have known all along: a show without a skilled host is a perpetual game of "Press Your Luck."

Instead of relegating the success or failure of your customer events, brainstorming sessions, and team meetings to chance, invest in the one superstar every organization operating virtually needs now. A skilled moderator. 

A skilled moderator is a very important role for virtual team meetings. The ability to orchestrate an engaging conversation with multiple participants requires planning, active listening, consensus building, conflict resolution, and the ability to shape the conversation towards defining the next steps, actions, owners, and timetable of deliverables. 

Like great game show hosts (and dinner hosts, for that matter), great meeting moderators make the role look easy. They break down barriers between participants and viewers, allow everyone to experience a range of emotions together authentically, and guide the journey to a shared outcome. Delivering effortless experiences, ironically, requires significant effort.

The best moderators are naturally curious. excited about the process of discovery, flexible, and engage without bias. And, above all, they do their homework in advance. Offer individuals on your team a chance to try out for this starring role on a rotating basis. And discover breakthroughs in collaboration, effectiveness, and outcomes as a result.

The good news is you don't have to be a Hollywood superstar to make a name for yourself as an effective meeting moderator by following this simple script.

  1. Connect with contestants. Great hosts create a personal connection with each presenter. The chemistry you experience onstage starts backstage. Invest time to get to know each of your presenters personally in advance. Discovering a fun fact or an interesting hobby helps you and your audience connect with expert guests in a human way. Helping your guests show up at their best includes pronouncing the name of each guest correctly. "Our names are central to our unique identities, and saying them correctly is the first step in connecting with, respecting, and appreciating one another," reminds NameCoach CEO Praveen Shanbhag. His company offers simple and effective embedded online tools to help you easily learn and remember how to pronounce people's names. Perfectly. 

2. Explain the rules of the game. Go beyond the agenda, especially for recurring meetings. Set clear expectations of how and when the audience will be invited to participate. And clearly define what meeting success looks like -- whether it's coming up with a list of five new product ideas, learning a new skill or pitch, or solving a problem together. Be quick and clear in your explanation. And, remember, the more complex the rules of engagement, the less likely your audience is to actually engage.
3. Master the one-sentence summary: "The simplest stories are the strongest," reminds Chris Westfall, author of Leadership Language and BulletProof Branding. Notice that great game show hosts speak in simple, compelling sentences. And that within those sentences are feeling prompts. Translating this to a virtual office meeting looks like, "I'm hearing a consensus that this new product is a brilliant idea, although many of you are expressing nervousness about the launch plan." Saying "nervous" invites your co-workers and guests to have a conversation that goes beyond facts to include feelings. And can be useful in identifying underlying resistance, risks, and ramifications as well as "what's missing."

4. Engage your audience. How riveting would a game show be with a silent studio audience? The same is true of virtual meetings and events. "Mix it up," advises Pat Gibbons, principal SVP of marketing at Walker, an experience management services firm. "During a discussion or presentation, switch gears and to conduct a poll or ask a question that requires the group to enter something in the chat feature." Even inviting a one-word reaction to a question or a concept can take the discussion in a new and engaging direction.
5. Build suspense. The primary purpose of suspense is to build tension. Suspense is also a useful tool to keep your audience invested in what might happen next. The secret to suspense in virtual meetings? "Silence," responds Gibbons. "Be OK with introducing silence in person or virtual. When you pose a question to a group, wait for an answer. That moment of silence might feel like it lasts forever, but wait. Once one person responds, others tend to follow along." John Taschek, SVP, Market Strategy at Salesforce, concurs and adds, "It's an old reporter's trick to stay silent during interviews because you know the other person will become so uncomfortable they'll start talking to fill the vacuum. That dynamic is amplified on a virtual conference. That's why you see one or two people who talk more frequently and without a goal of furthering an agenda on a video conference than you would in-person. It's tiring for everyone else. Take breaks. Silence is golden."

6. Manage the game clock. A game show without a winner is like a meeting without an outcome. Great meeting moderators ensure the meeting ends on time with a clear set of outcomes and next steps delivered live. Superstar moderators pace the meeting and prompt participants to wrap before the credits roll. And, in the world of back to back virtual meetings, giving even a few minutes back is a welcome commercial break.
7. Bring the audience in on the win. The final few seconds of any great game show include the contestants, their families, the host, and the audience together to celebrate the win and the experience. And, in business meetings, it's critical to conclude with people rather than with content. "Briefly stop sharing your screen and go back to seeing everyone's faces," concludes Gibbons. "It's a clear indication that you want interactions." 
"Improving meetings is not just an opportunity to enhance the performance of our companies. It is also a way to positively impact the lives of our people," states Pat Lencioni, best-selling author of several business books includingThe Five Dysfunctions of Team. And who doesn't want to make that kind of impact?

Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force, and I have co-authored several articles on how you can reach your full potential and deliver peak performance while working from home. We've covered how you design and architect your surroundings, the art and science of public speaking and presentation skills, the ability to pause, ponder, and prioritize your time, how to effectively managing your remote teams, and how leaders must cultivate healthy relationships for all stakeholders. We also know the importance of managing relationships with managers and how world recording holding athletes develop a mindset that keeps you inspired and motivated to work from home. We also wrote about how you can get a strong referral. The series of articles mentioned about were developed to ensure you can deliver high performance while working remotely, including the delivery of virtual events.   

What is your experience with managing team meetings? We welcome your insights here or by joining us on Twitter at @karenmangia and @ValaAfshar.

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

Editorial standards